2018 Blogging in Review

January: I started 2018 off with a post on a topic I often return to: Kindness Matters. I was then perhaps less than kind in taking apart some sloppy reporting and misunderstandings of crash data in A Bit of a Rant on Data + Data Rant Continued: What a Tangled Web + Slice and Dice Data Rant: Who's Really Number One?

One of the highlights in January: Attending the TRB Annual Meeting for the first time after years of conference envy created by the #TRBAM content I saw via Twitter. A second highlight: Discovering that my social media work had become data points in a research project.

February: As "The Grey" continued (what passes for winter in Seattle) I chose to think back to bike rides I've enjoyed and look forward to more with Washington Counties Challenge: A Statewide Bikespedition To-do List, then updated my musings on modal advantages with Bike, Transit, Car: Three Transportation Perspectives from Seattle.

March: Bike challenges get rolling in March thanks to errandonnee and I spent some time pondering the nature of public commitments, which really worked for me this month:
Oh So Challenging: 'Tis the Season to Track Your Riding
Keep that Streak Going: #30DaysOf Something that Matters to You
Errandonnee 2018: The Initial Plan
Keeping Another Streak Going: #30DaysOfYoga
Errands by Bike Are a Breeze (and Sometimes Breezy): Errandonnee 2018

April: Why 30 Days of Biking? (Or More) -- because Surgeon General Warning: Bicycling Can Be Habit-Forming and because Beating the Bus, and Other Bicycling Benefits. A couple of posts on the WSDOT blog about getting ready for National Bike Month: Bikeways Aren't Just for Bicyclists and Clean Sweep: Trail maintenance on the list to prepare for National Bike Month, major events.

May: I rolled in Bike Month with a game -- Play Bike Bingo! Great Excuse for a Bikespedition and a report on 30 Days of Biking 2018: Rolled All April. And then it was vacation time on a bicycle tour with my sweetheart, with a side of Reclaiming Yoga.
On the Road Again: Getting Ready for a Washington State Bike + Ferry + Train Vacation
Day Two: Mukilteo to Port Townsend
Day Three: Port Townsend to Port Angeles
Day Four: Port Angeles to Lake Crescent
Days Five and Six: Lake Crescent to Victoria, BC

July: I looked back on the bicycle tour with Bike Tour Planning: (Relationship) Lessons Learned So Far and examined one aspect of what crash statistics tell us in The First Question Is Always WHY? on the WSDOT blog.

August: Too many instances to count led me to write Event Planning 101: It’s Transportation + Accessibility Information, Not Parking Information. In a gentler mood I looked at how my reading habits have evolved with technology in How I've Been Reading.

September: This month was packed with travel to conferences so if you want to know what I was thinking and learning, search Twitter on @barbchamberlain and any of these hashtags: #bikeshareconference #walkbikeplaces #aashtoAM (and check out my November post below). Meanwhile I did squeeze in a call to update our usage in Hey (We’re Not All) Guys! Why I Don’t Use “You Guys”.

October: Social media takes so many hits that I decided to provide a different take with A Little Love Note to Twitter. Just in time for the State Trails Conference I published another goals list, Trails in Washington State: A Bikespedition Goal. Toward the end of the month I couldn't resist updating 13+ Reasons Bicycles Are Perfect for the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Disasters).

November: Thanks to Better Bike Share Partnership and the North American Bike Share Association, video from the national bikeshare conference enabled me to create a transcript of my closing plenary speech in Give Your Power to Truth: What Story Are You Writing for Your Life?. As we rolled into the Season Of Overeating an evening hosting #bikeschool on Twitter inspired Happy Holiday + Awesome Alliteration.

December: We're back into The Grey, although it's strangely sunny in Seattle today with blue skies. Given the usual winter wetness this month I offered up how-to winter bicycling tips in Wheeling through Winter, Riding in the Rain: Bicycling Gear ABCs to Keep You Rolling. My Bike Style Gift Ideas: Three Products I Love and Why I Love Them post is good any time of year -- tuck it away for inspiration around birthdays, Mother's Day, Valentine's, "Just Because Day" gift-giving.... And like many others I put together some of those Big Thoughts for the end of the year in #BikeIt: What’s On Your List? and More or Less.

Looking back on the year reminds me of posts I meant to write (like a list of books I loved this year) and ones I started but didn't finalize, like some thoughts on bicycling in New Orleans from my trip to Walk Bike Places. That's a good one to run some grey day to cheer me up with memories of bopping along on a bikeshare bike through the French Quarter, eating beignets with Naomi, listening to live jazz, and other great experiences. For now I'll leave you with this moment of Zen from a bike ride on the north bank of the Spokane River.

More or Less

It's that time of year.

You know, the time of year when we pretend that an arbitrary mark on a human creation for tracking the movements of the earth on its axis and around the sun means we can become a different person.

A whole new you. Shinier. Better. Healthier. Calmer. SOMEthing-er.

As a teen I made lists of the many ways in which I was going to upgrade myself to some impossible external standard really only achievable via airbrushing and lies.

Not that I think there's anything wrong with setting goals or trying to change or improve. But "Live Your Best Life" is a pretty high bar. Exhausting, really. Some days it's a win if it I lived My Pretty Darn Good Life, or even My Reasonably Acceptable Life Given that It's Only Tuesday.

And I'm one of the very fortunate ones. I have someone to love who loves me back, children who bring me joy and some -- ahem -- insights into my tendencies, a job I enjoy that I'm good at and in which I make a difference, a solid home, easy access to healthy food, clean water to drink and hot water in which to bathe, transportation choices, an extended family and friends who can give help if I need it -- on and on. So much goodness. So many things that make my life easier rather than harder.

Mock road signs on a pole. top sign: White background, arrow pointing right, word MORE in black. Bottom sign: Orange background, arrow pointing left, word LESS in black. Blue sky with puffy clouds in background.
I'm not going to make resolutions with a capital R. As Betsy says (I quote Betsy pretty often), if you think of something you want to change you could just do it now, not wait for January 1 as if that date has some kind of magical quality.

I am going to make some lists of More/Less.

More forgiving. Less absolute.
More realistic. Less all-or-nothing.
More pragmatic. Less puritanical.

Like this:

MORE              LESS         
Salad                 Sugar
Moving             Sitting
Mindfulness     Impulse
Kindness           Judging
Sleep                 Late-night reading

This is a start and doesn't include every idea I had in thinking about this structure. What would you put on your version of this list?

Related reading

A Little Love Note to Twitter

I know, I know, Twitter can be a poisonous realm filled with evil trolls.

But it brings me good things in a celebration of serendipity and the spread of good ideas that I don't find elsewhere.

Some examples that inspired this post:

I follow Andrea Learned (@andrealearned) and have for years. I found her when I lived in Spokane, worked in communications, and was building my women's bike blogs list, among other things. We had biking and communications in common. I followed her.

Then I moved to a job in Seattle (for which, by the way, Twitter provided some of my brand-building and influencer identity). I met Andrea in person, we became friends who occasionally get together for bike rides and coffee, and I realized just how much of a leader she was in bridging the worlds of sustainability, bicycling, social impact, green business, and online influence.

So I follow her, retweet her, and look at who she recommends and amplifies. This recently gave me a "you are there" series of tweets as Andrea participated in a climate-action bike ride at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

Andrea shared a story recently that taught me how few influencers/changed opinions it takes to turn the tide on something you care about by sharing a link to this Fast Company piece: The magic number of people needed to create social change. The magic number? 25 percent--just one in four.

The whole notion of hashtags as a way to link people with common interests illustrates how Twitter can bring strangers together around a shared idea. A few examples from my interests, and there are many:
  • When I look at the spread of concepts like #CrashNotAccident, with people calling out media coverage that doesn't follow the AP stylebook and makes it sound as if a driver hitting someone was somehow inevitable or unavoidable, I know it's worth engaging to keep up the drumbeat.
  • More recently #DriverNotCar has emerged--an especially important distinction as we begin to have self-driving cars tested on public roads. The next time you read an article about someone injured or killed while walking or bicycling, look at whether the reporter actually says the driver did it or whether all the actions are attributed to the vehicle.
  • Andrea started the use of #bikes4climate to highlight the value of bicycling as carbon-free transportation. 
  • Every Thursday night from 6-7pm Pacific time #bikeschool takes place: A "guest prof" asks bikey questions, people chime in with answers. I regularly serve as guest prof and it builds such community that when a #bikeschool regular came to Seattle on a visit, several of us got together for beer and met in real life for the first time.

Another phenomenon I can attribute directly to Twitter activity: The number of people I meet at conferences with whom I can forge a strong and immediate connection. When I introduce myself if the response in a tone of recognition is, "You're Barb Chamberlain?!" I know to answer with, "You must be on Twitter." The answer is always yes.

Why? Because I live-tweet conferences, briefings, any setting in which I'm able to use Twitter to disseminate information relevant to my work and my passions. I type like the wind and I'm good at picking out sound bites--or what we used to refer to as sound bites before they became tweetable comments. A few examples from September 2018, which was a somewhat over-conferenced month for me but one full of great learning and connecting:
#WalkBikePlaces (which was attended by more good live-tweeters than many I go to)

If you've been avoiding Twitter because you know it's abused by bots and ranters, you don't have to let them scare you away. It can be a space in which to connect, share and learn. And there's always the function that lets you mute certain keywords for a much more...civilized experience.

Wondering where to start? I've compiled some lists around various interests, particularly active transportation and equity. Andrea has a big batch of lists focused around sustainability, climate change and corporate social responsibility. You can follow a list or just look at it to pick out a few people you find interesting. You can always unfollow later if you change your mind. It's not like Facebook, where people (should) only let you connect if they know you in real life and then get their feelings hurt if you unfriend because you're not all that interested in pictures of their grandchildren.

At its best, Twitter lets you learn from and connect with total strangers. If this post encourages you to give it a try--or to come back to an account you started years ago but haven't been active on--give me a shout at @barbchamberlain to let me know. Then we won't be strangers.

Related Reading

Hey (We’re Not All) Guys! Why I Don’t Use “You Guys”

Let me put my English degree and years of copy-editing experience to work and start with a handy little grammar lesson: In most instances when you would say, “You guys” you can say “You” and the sentence works just fine.
  • Wait staff to diners: What would you guys like for dinner tonight? Would you guys like to see a dessert menu?
  • Social butterfly to a bunch of friends: Where do you guys want to go tonight?
  • Emcee to an audience: Are you guys ready to give it up for Famous Guest Name Here?
  • Anyone, to any group anywhere: Are you guys [verb]-ing?
This has been grating on me for a while now between hearing it live, on the radio, and from podcast hosts. (Side note to podcasters and announcers: Run a transcript of your last show and highlight every occurrence, then come back. I'll be here.)
I’ve been working to purge my own use, I hope with a fair amount of success. I’ve read a number of articles about the inherent sexism in having a male-gendered term--because oh yes it is--used as a collective. Each one reinforces my feeling that we need to address this default setting.

The capper came just last week. I will let the highly male-dominated conference I was attending remain nameless, along with the male emcee.
I had just finished discussing this very topic with the people at my table--four women, five men, although two of the men were having their own sidebar conversation and probably didn’t hear my little lecture.
We had talked about how someone bothered by this in the workplace brought it up only to be told that they were “too sensitive”. I think we were in general agreement that this created an unwelcoming climate at the same time we’re trying to recruit a lot of people and are actively seeking to diversify the workplace.
I work in an agency whose headquarters and regional offices are essentially big concrete boxes full of engineers--most of them men, many of them approaching retirement age. Some of them participate in STEM outreach and mentoring and we have interns and recent graduates in the workforce.
Do you suppose the young women being mentored want to be referred to as “guys” or think they have an equal chance of advancement if the agency’s default setting is one of guy-ness? I mean, it already is full of guy-ness by virtue of who’s there now so we need to try extra hard to be inclusive and welcoming.
All I know is that when the emcee congratulated two (senior executive) women receiving an award by saying, as they exited the stage, “Congratulations, you guys,” the other women at the table and I all made eye contact and nodded. There it was again.
We’ve worked through similar changes before. We’ve come to recognize that using words that only include some of the people in the room reflects the implication that some people belong there and some don’t.
Many of us are working to overcome that history--to move away from default settings that privilege some people as the norm and mark others as the exception. You wouldn’t look at a room full of people who embody a variety of races, ethnicities and cultures and say, “Hey white people, where should we go for dinner tonight?”
I’m not suggesting it’s easy. Like any habit, changes in your word choice will require effort. This is a lot of historical baggage we’re packing around. (And if you’re a man you have pockets in which to carry this stuff. Women mostly don’t.)
Seriously, folks, if women had been in power throughout the ages would we be addressing groups of all genders by saying, “You gals”? And if we were and you were a man in this system how do you think you’d feel about that?
Let me give you one more reason to purge “guys” as a collective term. Some people are born in a body that means their family and friends refer to them as a guy. They go through difficult work to represent themselves as who they really are, and their true self isn’t a guy at all. How do you suppose it feels to have people still calling you a guy at that point?*
Here’s a list for you. Practice a few times so these become a reflex. Some are better suited to following “you”, some work better after “hey” or “okay” or “so” or some other little throwaway word you use to signal that you’re about to say something. Or you could, y’know, just say what you need to say.

One more thing to know: It doesn't require that many of us making the change to get society to shift. Just one in four, according to this study at University of Pennsylvania.
Useful Collective Terms***
  • Folks
  • People
  • All
  • Y’all
  • All y’all (for a bigger group)
  • Team
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Colleagues
  • Group
  • Everyone
  • VERB-ers, VERB-iers, VERB-ists:** If you’re engaging in a specific activity this can be useful--partiers, gardeners, balloonists, card players.
  • NOUN lovers/aficionados/VERB-ers or NOUN participants/attendees: Food lovers, birdwatchers, stamp collectors, workshop participants, conference attendees
Age-specific as appropriate (and it often isn’t):
  • Kiddos (only for kids)
  • Young people (only to young people--no need to jokingly referring to old people as young people as if there’s something wrong with being old)
  • Elders
Now, if you’re in a meeting of all guys, or a bunch of people named “Guy”, by all means use “guys”. (At which point you might also want to bear in mind that you’re now in a meeting that doesn’t represent the perspectives of the majority of people in the world. So there’s that.)
We are all learning, every day, how to treat each other with kindness, dignity and respect. Our words matter and can move us toward or away from a more inclusive world.
If acknowledging that you've unintentionally included some and excluded others with your words feels too hard, maybe check your values orientation a little more closely. No, wait--scratch that “maybe”. Just do it.

Several Footnotes
* Obviously some people making this transition are delighted to be referred to as a guy. Somehow I don’t think when it’s used in this careless collective that it’s meant to include you specifically on the basis of your gender. They aren’t thinking about gender or inclusion at all--that’s the underlying problem.
** You will find me giving the exact opposite advice about VERB-ers if I’m talking about usage in transportation. I tell people not to use the terms “bicyclist” and “pedestrian” to refer to people biking or walking. This is because I strive for people-first language to remind everyone that we’re all people no matter which modes of transportation we use.
If I were starting off on a walking or biking tour I’m most likely to say “OK, group/folks/everyone, let’s get going”. It wouldn’t be the end of the world in that context if I said “OK, walkers/riders, let’s get going”. But if I’m editing a policy document I’m in people-language mode.
*** My extra-cranky final note where I lose a bunch of you because you think I’m being too picky: I don’t include terms for groups of people on the list above that you might expect to see, such as “tribe”. I am not a member of any tribe and don’t think it’s okay for me to appropriate that word, whereas if you are a tribal member referring to others it's completely fine. I don’t use “posse”--they used to hang people, remember? And so on down a list of collective nouns that either don't apply or carry a burden of history I don't want to bring into the room.
Basically I try not to use any collective referring to a specific group defined by its religious beliefs, race, ethnicity, or some other characteristic or practice I don’t share. If I do it’s because I don’t actually know that word’s derivation, at which point I hope you’ll share that historical information with me so I can update my practice. I will be genuinely, sincerely appreciative.
Related Reading
Any Terms to Add or Avoid?
  • What collective words do you use in place of “guys”?
  • Any you avoid because they represent a group definition that doesn’t apply to you or the people you’re addressing?

How I've Been Reading

I love books so of course I love bookstores. Love. Them. As a kid, thought I'd grow up to own a bookstore because I couldn't imagine anything more wonderful than spending all day every day surrounded by books. Magic between covers, books.

If not a bookstore, then maybe I'd end up working in a library. I completed every summer reading program the Lewiston, Idaho, library offered, set records, got special permission to get books from higher up in the bookmobile where books were shelved by grade and I had already read everything for my age group.

Grew up, worked in the student bookstore during college (but mostly in the back office doing accounts payable reconciliations--good times, good times). After college, learned about the economics of publishing working for a small regional publisher that went bankrupt, learned how close to the margins a bookstore operates as we sold to them (nobody in this scenario was making much money, as it turned out). Didn't open a bookstore at that point, although years later I got to do a small retailing bit at the Washington Bikes office in Seattle's Pioneer Square and naturally included books in the mix.

Pretty much everywhere I go on vacation or on a business trip I go into bookstores. I buy books even when we're traveling by bike and I have to haul the weight of the book for another 150 miles.

So, yeah, I've been a voracious reader my entire life, although at times life has interfered with reading via the mechanism of little things like having children. I accumulated books by the boxfull as I moved from house to house, culminating in a giant 5,000-square-foot historic home with lots and lots of built-in bookshelves and room for more bookcases.

In a way my books served as the equivalent of rings on a tree, showing the ages and stages of my life. There sat a longstanding love of the Arthurian legend going back to a summer vacation when I bought John Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights in a bookstore in Oregon. It anchored the fantasy and science fiction collection. In nonfiction my love of words and my linguistics and English degrees explained the collection of books on language history and how the brain processes words. My interest in science nestled there with the works of Stephen Jay Gould. My love of history showed up both in historical fiction and in works that took a topic and explored it through the ages in interesting ways. My master's in public administration and additional graduate work toward that unfinished PhD in political science added books on public policy, political culture, community engagement. I started bicycling for transportation (and joy and freedom and health and the environment and-and-and) so that started another big collection.

I filled all the bookshelves. I might occasionally take a few used books to Auntie's Bookstore to trade in for credit so I could acquire more. I worked out whether vertical or horizontal storage permitted more books to fit on a shelf. And then--

We bought a smaller house that had neither miles of built-in shelves nor much room for bookshelves, given the layout of walls, windows and doors. I had come to a crossroads. And a certain portion of one bookshelf was dedicated to books on simplicity, downsizing your belongings, things like that.

I took a deep breath and decided that I would set a lot of my books free to be read and loved by others. Like, a LOT a lot.

I dramatically downsized my book collection to mostly nonfiction--books I might consult rather than stories to be reread, with a few exceptions. A bit of a shock to the system, but I survived the surgery.

But then my reading life changed radically because Betsy made me take on her old Kindle.

I really didn't think I wanted one. I like the physicality of books: being drawn by the cover, flipping it over to read the blurbs on the back, opening it to read the first few lines and see if the author grabbed me immediately. I liked knowing how much more of the story I have by the thickness of the pages left so I can second-guess whether the author really can tie off all those dangling plot threads by the end.

Yet in no time at all I found myself touching the corner of a physical page because that's what you do to "turn" the page in a Kindle book. So what turned me?
  • The smaller environmental footprint of books that arrive as electrons, not as something that involves chopping down trees and carrying their deadweight back and forth in the form of logs, paper, and finished books.
  • The light weight of the Kindle regardless of the size of the book I'm reading. No more getting painfully whacked in the face if I nodded off reading an especially hefty tome, like Pillars of the Earth.
  • The fact that I never, ever run out of something to read. There is always another book.
  • The ease with which I can get the next book by an author whose work I like without any cost in my time or transportation. (Yes, I'm aware that instant gratification isn't one of the most attractive qualities on this list.)
  • The ability to read works by authors who might never land a big print publishing deal, but who can get visibility within the world of electronic publishing.
I do miss the physicality of books, and I'd say I notice some differences in how I process digital content as compared with analog. For one thing, without the constant visual reminder of the book's cover I don't think I remember titles and authors quite the same way. The search function on the Kindle lets me find everyone eventually, though, so there's that.

Some books really don't lend themselves to the medium. I buy those, I buy books to give as gifts, I buy more books than I ever did, I still have bookshelves full of books, I regularly recommend writers on Twitter (and get to tell them directly how much I love their work, which is awesome). Still voracious. Always reading.

Reclaiming Yoga

I started my run at #30DaysOfYoga counting on the power of repetition. It worked as I'd hoped, restoring yoga to a regular place in my life.

But I think it worked for more reasons than simple repetition. It seems to me that my connections to yoga over the years laid a foundation I could return to.

That may be one of the secrets to getting a habit back: Having its roots in something that's a part of you. If you're tryinig to develop a brand-new habit it seems to me tying it to something you've loved before may give you what you need to make it stick.

My yoga interest stretches back decades. When I was a kid I read a book on yoga that belonged to Older Brother #2. I remember it as having line drawings of the asanas, a discussion of breathing, and information on advanced practices that included everting one's bowels to rinse them in the stream you should be standing in, then I guess tuck them back in somehow, or maybe draw them back in through ab strength.

Whatever it was, I didn't plan to try it. But I worked on trying to do Lotus and Tree and a few others. I memorized the Sun Salutation sequence. Even with the limberness of youth I struggled with Lotus, feeling the pinch and drag of my feet pulling at my inner thighs after I torqued my feet into place with my hands.

In high school it was episodes of Lilias, Yoga and You on Spokane Public TV after school. Lilias had a long, dark braid, a soothing voice, and a Danskin outfit of leotard and tights. This of course told me that doing yoga required special clothes, and who wouldn't want some of that?

The years passed and Jane Fonda had her effect, what with aerobics and legwarmers. Two babies and a few career moves later I started setting my alarm for 5 a.m. to have time to work out before driving (ugh) from my home in Coeur d'Alene to my job in Spokane. Some of my VHS tapes (yes, this was in the dark, dark days before apps, my children) put me through step aerobics and workouts with light weights. Others, though, gave me the gravity-defying yoga of Rodney Yee and a few others.

I didn't know about modifications and these tapes didn't give me options. So when someone popped up and down effortlessly into multiple repetitions of Upward Bow when I couldn't do more than get my butt off the ground, it was a trifle discouraging. But there were encouraging moments too, like one in which the person demonstrating Tree said not to worry if I swayed because trees sway.

Then one day I saw an event taking place at a yoga studio near campus. They were offering a juice tasting, which sounded interesting, and a class. (For the record, wheatgrass juice tastes like new-mown lawn. Not a fan.)

Live instruction took me to a whole new way of practice. Being shown modifications let me work toward the ultimate expression of a posture while seeing each modification as its own posture worth executing well. Each class brought a new insight, a subtle shift in position, a reminder to lift or drop or open. I spent a whole Saturday in a workshop going pose by pose through the Sun Salutation, breaking each one down to examine its elements and then putting them back together. The year I turned 40 I did 108 Sun Salutations at the winter solstice.

Yoga was a habit.

So when I started doing it again I had memories of what it felt like, what I could be like, to motivate me.

I might not be able to do a full bind in a side angle now -- and may never get to that level again. But I can lift from the core, roll over my toes, and remember that Down Dog does, in fact, come to represent rest rather than exertion.

I spread my fingers, distribute weight evenly and push back to take pressure off my wrists, lift my hips, drop my heels a fraction toward the ground (not that they ever really touched the floor even when I was at my best), exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

Keeping Another Streak Going: #30DaysOfYoga

I've written about the strange power of a #30DaysOf approach to working on a new habit like flossing. I'm now working on a new #30DaysOf challenge to revive an old habit: Yoga.

I used to have a regular yoga practice and loved the way I felt as I got stronger. It served as a moving meditation and gave me a community of people I practiced with.

It also gave me a different relationship with food. I could think about a snack (like, say, a giant snickerdoodle, which they sold in the bakery next to the yoga studio I first started going to) and my mental response ran along the lines of, "You don't want to eat that right now. You're someone who does yoga and you need to be empty for practice," or "You're someone who does yoga and you're deciding not to indulge."

Being "someone who does yoga" was good for me in the way the giant Snickerdoodle Incident sign was. Even better because it provided other positive benefits from the exercise and mental focus.

I lost that habit, though, for various reasons.

The first reason: Because I said so.

I gave myself permission not to do yoga in 2012 when adding it into already-packed days felt like a chore, not a gift I gave myself. This has happened more than once, as I blogged back in 2008. 2012 was a particularly full year that included changing my career along with the city I lived in, and with the move I gave up my access to a yoga community in a studio that felt like home.

The new career was intense, the days were long. After that 2012 career change I had another one in 2016 and yet another in 2017. With all those changes I really lost my yoga self even as my professional self stretched in new directions.

The second reason: The space/time continuum.

My life is more geographically challenging than it used to be. In Spokane I lived 2.5 miles from work. Although the bike ride to the studio was uphill all the way and thus a bit of a butt-burner it was only three miles from work and the ride home after practice was a downhill coast.

I now live 8.5 miles from my Seattle office or a 60-mile drive to the office in Olympia I'm in roughly every other week. Time isn't money, time is distance. Or distance is time, which is the same thing. I enjoy my 40-minute bike ride to work but it's 40 minutes, not the 15 it was in Spokane. Bus ride takes about the same amount of time.

Bicycling may have adjusted my attitude toward time, but the day has 24 hours and sleep is a food group so I make tradeoffs. (Sidebar: I'm quite aware of the privilege that enables me to live relatively close to work in Seattle's overheated housing market.)

The third reason: A trilemma.

I haven't found a studio I like in a location that makes sense with a class schedule that fits my work life. This equation is similar to the classic "Price, Quality, Speed -- Pick Two."

I can work from home occasionally, which gives me a great quiet space in which to focus and crank through a lot of things (although I've given up on the idea of "inbox zero" as a goal -- people just send more). Telecommuting essentially gives me time. But if I were to go to a studio near my office then I'd need to go to the office to be near yoga. And when I go to Olympia or travel somewhere else -- I'm on the road roughly every other week one way or another -- I'd be nowhere near the Seattle studio.

The fourth reason for a while: Ouch. 

The Great Broken Elbow Complicated Later by a Subsequent Frozen Shoulder Yuck of 2016 meant no yoga. No bicycling. That stupid frozen shoulder was incredibly painful and went on and on through physical therapy, medical massage, ice packs and ibuprofen, but eventually subsided.

Moving past those

So here I am. Settled into the new job that as of March 1, 2018 was a year old. Still geographically complicated but I travel less than I did early on when I needed to build relationships with new colleagues all around the state. I successfully completed a 10-day bike touring vacation fall 2017 so my body is clearly capable of some movement.

And I really need yoga. One of the side effects of the broken elbow coming after 18 months of savagely long days (merging two nonprofits is a lot of work) and sorrow at the loss of my beloved brother Don was weight gain. When you're drained by the day, a little sofa time with a nice glass of red wine feels medicinal.

Let that habit replace your exercise, though, and the effects of fewer calories out and more calories in really compound. I want the mindfulness I have when my identity includes that of "person who does yoga and thus pays attention to her food".

Given the success of my less-than-serious #30DaysOfFlossing personal challenge, I'm bringing that approach to yoga. There's no giant sign saying "Days I've Done Yoga" in the house but I'm on it.

I have a great app, Down Dog Yoga, that lets me choose length, level of difficulty, and a special focus if I want it like some extra core work or hip openers (good for people who bike a lot). The instructional approach and sequences are similar to those of my Spokane yoga home.

I'm practicing alone and thus don't have a community. But this practice has its own placemaking element. If you've been a regular studio practitioner you know what I mean by placemaking. You step into that dedicated space with its wood floor, its particular scent or sounds or vibes, the quieter voices and bare feet, and you've entered Yoga Land. It's a peaceful place.

Our house has enough open space in the living room for me to leave my yoga mat out. This provides a visual reminder that I'm Person who Does Yoga right next to the table where I eat. I light a couple of candles, set my tablet on the little stand that was a gift from Second Daughter, and touch "Start Practice" on the app.

How I'll get there -- ahimsa. 

Ahimsa, one of the core tenets of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, calls for nonviolence, including nonviolence toward oneself. A while back I happened across a comment on social media from someone who was doing a similar 30 Days of Yoga challenge. She gave herself permission to be kind to herself. If what she could manage in a given day was a few minutes of legs up against the wall, which is an actual asana, that would count. Given these kinds of parameters and the ability to choose a really short practice on the app, I figure I can make this work even when I'm on the road or if I happen to feel under the weather.

How I won't get there -- making it extra hard by setting the bar too high.

Someone I know started sharing on Facebook when he committed to doing not just 30 days of yoga, but 30 days of hot yoga. The post the day he had an all-out meltdown and ended up getting his heart checked out was not motivating.

I don't see any need to break myself in this process. The point is re-establishment of a habit, not some Olympic feat, although maybe someday I'll once again feel I can do 108 Sun Salutations for Solstice, as I did a couple of times back in the day. (The feelings created by doing this provide another wonderful example of the power of repetition.)

I'm reminded of Betz's comment about people who tell her they can't come to her yoga class because they're not ready for it -- not good enough. "You don't get flexible to do yoga. You do yoga to get flexible." My left elbow, Breaky McBreakerson, is sending me some reminders that I'm not really back to nailing a bunch of full crocodile poses yet so I also need to remember I'm doing yoga to get stronger and am not there yet. Say, ibuprofen, come over here and sit down by me.

How I'll get there -- tracking, reminding, reporting. 

I do better when I'm keeping track of my follow-through. I keep a health notebook in which I record exercise on a chart showing four weeks at a glance (along with text notes on various things that need tracking for good healthcare advice, like my occasional migraines), so I have a visual pattern to look at. An empty box would be Not Good.

I set a reminder on my calendar that pops up at 7 p.m. every night to ask "Have you done yoga tonight?". Mind you, it doesn't bark at me in all caps DO YOGA. It asks gently. With ahimsa.

For more of that accountability that research tells us helps you develop new habits I'm texting Second Daughter every other day or so with an update on how many days I've practiced. Even if I don't reach 30, it's more than I was doing before I started. Yesterday's text read #10DaysOfYoga.


Your Turn
  • If you practice yoga, what keeps you doing it?
  • Are you working on some kind of commitment to yourself? How's that going?
Lots of 30 Days of Yoga Content and Other Good Yoga Advice Out There

Keep that Streak Going: #30DaysOf Something that Matters to You

All my life I've tried various approaches to "becoming a better person." "Better" defined, of course, as something I wanted to change about myself. This might even include "be better at accepting myself as I am." You may have a list that looks something like mine with its hits and misses.
Bit my nails as a kid -- haven't done that in a long time (although I'm bothered by my cuticles and have a weird fascination with having unattainably perfect nails).

Used to be messy -- I'd let my room go completely, then go into a frenzied whirlwind of reorganizing everything down to the contents of various boxes in my closet. Now I'm reasonably tidy all the time. It's easier and I like the way our house feels with bare surfaces. (They may be in need of dusting but they're not piled high with random things.)

Tried meditating for a while -- Turns out I like reading books about meditating more than I do actual meditation. For a while I had a really faithful yoga habit that served me as moving meditation, centering my mind on my mat pretty successfully. I now have an app touted as meditation for impatient people so maybe this will do the trick. If I use it.

My journal is pretty sporadic -- And that's okay with me. I kept diaries as a kid (those little square ones that locked with a key even though you could probably jam the book open with a toothpick). I've been keeping a journal for years now as an adult. I sometimes wish I had a slightly more regular habit, as it feels kind of funny to do a "catch-up" entry because I want to record something significant that happened two months ago but the feelings have shifted with time. But it's there and I do keep coming back to it.

That monthly breast self-exam you're supposed to do -- Yeah, full disclosure/TMI, not at all good about this despite having had really frightening bouts of cysts in the past that I thought might be cancer, and having had a maternal grandmother with breast cancer (late onset) and dear friends who have battled it (successfully, thank heavens).

With no scientific basis whatsoever I figure I'm kind of in the middle of the bell curve on habit formation. I succeed at some things, perform somewhat half-assedly at others, have given up on some things. I read Zero Waste Home a while back and made a few changes in addition to some pretty good existing practices, but there's no way I'd ever consider making my own mascara/eyeliner out of burned almonds. Waste of good almonds, I say.

A while back I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Jeez, talk about tackling every facet of your life. Obsessive with the charts much? She's someone who responds to the visual cues of seeing whether or not she has performed up to expectations so she has a whole system.

I've done this chart business once quite successfully so I get it. I grew up with a mom who had been a schoolteacher so we had chore charts with gold stars and the whole business, which may explain why this worked for me.

The bad habit at that point that I really needed to do something about: the consumption of giant snickerdoodles purchased at the coffee stand in my building back when I worked at WSU Spokane. My office was on the fifth floor so I usually walked down the stairs for the cookie (and companion latte) and back up, but that certainly didn't burn enough calories to eliminate the cookie effects entirely.

I started this sign in my office modeled on the workplace safety signs you see about how many days they've gone without an incident, or the signs you'll see on a city street telling you how many fatal crashes they've had in the year and asking you to slow down. (If only people would actually do this.)

I wish I had a picture of this sign. At the top of a whiteboard I wrote Number of Days without a Snickerdoodle Incident. Every day I increased the number by one. I started the sign after a week off at Christmas during which I had consumed homemade treats but officially had not eaten any giant snickerdoodles so I got off to a nice start writing a big "9".

When I left my job roughly 18 months later I had not eaten a single giant snickerdoodle. From that particular coffee stand, at least.... And in all seriousness, very few purchased anywhere else. They were the good, bendy-in-the-middle-the-way-snickerdoodles-are-supposed-to-be ones too. It was very satisfying to update the number by one each day, and after a while I couldn't stand the thought of resetting to zero and having to look at the evidence that I had slipped.

We don't all have the same bad habits. For example, Gretchen Rubin is apparently a yeller and a criticizer. I am not. I'm generally a pretty sunny optimist, take things in stride, and didn't grow up in a family of people who yelled -- nothing I want to change about that. Everyone's list is unique, but I'm betting everyone outside of people living in Buddhist monasteries has a list of things in their lives they'd like to change in some specific direction.

The part that made the most sense to me in The Happiness Project was the notion that you shouldn't try to improve everything about yourself at once. This is why the whole New Year's resolution business is doomed to failure. Who among us -- be honest now -- can really go from zero exercise to 60 minutes five days a week and cut out some food you love that's bad for you and keep your house super clean and start an organic herb garden in your windowsill and and and -- you see what I mean. There's a reason gyms are reliably full the first couple of weeks in January, then start emptying out.

So I don't make resolutions. Best friend Betz gave me her eminently reasonable thoughts on them: If you see something you want to change why would you wait until an artificially created date that has been equally artificially designated as a date to start doing something you think represents positive change? Why not start when you think of it?

I also have a lovely inspiring example in Second Daughter. She's very self-aware (one of those people who writes in her journal every day) and takes on different 30-day challenges , although sometimes just as a reset, not as something she necessarily intends to keep doing.

Right now, for example, she's in the midst of a no-added-sugar 30-day run. Good way to find out how often sugar (or "evaporated cane juice") is a hidden ingredient. Telling yourself you're doing something for just 30 days makes it a bit more attainable, and at the same time that's enough repetition for the formation of new habits. Hence the abundance of #30DaysOf hashtags on Twitter.

There's one habit I have truly, sincerely meant to get fixed in place for years and years and years. A habit I think about in exactly the same way every time I'm in a particular setting. You know this one: the habit you wish you had when you're reclined in the dentist's chair and they're looking at your gums.

"How often do you floss?" they ask, quite reasonably.

My usual answers are along the lines of "I have really good intentions...." or "Faithfully for about three days after every dental visit."

In the last two years I've changed dentists twice thanks to changes in work and insurance. And quite shamefully I had not been to the dentist in a really long time -- as in years -- when I went to the first one. I kept meaning to get around to making the appointment and then would get really busy. Again. So that dentist had to give me shots and only clean a part of my mouth at a time so my gums wouldn't be so loose my teeth fell out, or something like that.

Then I changed to Dentist #2. Same flippant answer on the flossing when they asked. Have I learned nothing? Apparently.

But I flossed when I went home that night. And the next morning I tweeted out facetiously -- oh, I'm the funny one, I am --

So humorous, that @barbchamberlain. But here's the thing. When I tweeted that out, I had just flossed.

I've done #30daysof biking and have often succeeded in riding my bike every day for a whole month. Five years out of the past seven, in fact. I've completed other bike challenges too, from coffeeneuring to errandonnee. I do especially well in years when I tell people, thus setting myself up for some (ahem) feedback if I fail. Mind you, I've made other public statements about bike challenges I haven't finished successfully, but still.

No, I didn't start tweeting out my daily "Look, I flossed!" report. But I kept flossing, sometimes twice a day. Today is Day 60 of #30DaysOfFlossing.

I didn't start another commitment precisely on Day 31, but I am moving on to another one.

Your Turn
Working on any personal commitment you want to share here for some external accountability?

Related Reading
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The Yoga of Biking. Or, the Biking of Yoga.
5 Behavior and Culture Hacks to Get People Walking and Biking
Set Down that Heavy Load: The Things We Carry
SISO Method for Life Management
It is Always Better to Ride than Not to Ride
An Easy New Year's Resolution: Write It Down

Kindness Matters

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." While the source of this quote is a bit fuzzy the meaning for me is crystal clear. The world could use more kindness.

It's an underrated virtue, one thought of as weak. But I think it takes strength to start from a place of kindness. It's much easier to react, to be defensive (or offensive), to respond either like a pillbug that rolls into a little ball or a porcupine with quills a-bristle in every direction. Any of these responses lets you stay focused on you.

Most people have things going on about which you know little to nothing. These invisible realities affect how they think, act, and speak. We in turn respond based on our own invisible realities. This can become a downward spiral of assumptions (you remember what you make when you assume, right?).

What if instead we approached interactions grounded in kindness? What would that change in ourselves, in others, in the world?

I find that when I act grounded in kindness I'm happier, and there's research to back this up. So hey, you can selfishly be a kind person and it's not an oxymoron.

When I start from kindness I give people the benefit of the doubt. I rephrase a question in an email before sending it to eliminate the negative connotations in a word choice. I ask if someone needs help, whether they're looking for an address or an item in the grocery store. I smile with sympathy at the parent on the bus dealing with a tired, cranky child and give "peekaboo" a shot to see if it works; I've been there, it wears you out, and the last thing you need is total strangers looking at you as if you're a bad parent with a bad kid.

It can take time and effort if it's not your usual starting point. Even if it's a common "setting" for you it can still get lost if your defenses go up or someone comes at you with their hair on fire. If it's not already a reflex or if you're in an especially challenging situation kindness requires mindfulness--that moment in which you take a breath and think before reacting so you can choose your response.

Kindness isn't just something for other people, either. The concept of "ahimsa"--compassion or non-violence--includes compassion towards oneself. It's like putting your own oxygen mask on first; you can't help someone else if your own air supply isn't flowing.

There's a quotation attributed to the Buddha about happiness that for me also applies to kindness: "Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."

How does kindness show up in your life? Are you kind to yourself? To others? How can you increase the overall kindness levels in the world?

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